MLS is sending an increasingly clear message to the soccer world; we don’t need your aging stars.

When Steven Gerrard left Liverpool – where he had become nothing short of a legend - and joined the L.A. Galaxy in the Summer of 2015, he was 35 years old. It was a big name signing for the team that defined big name signings with David Beckham in 2007. As he suited up for the Galaxy, Gerrard often had to fend off questions about MLS being a “retirement league.” He protested that description, but he didn’t need to. The league answered the question for him. During his year and a half in L.A. Gerrard noticeably failed to make an impact.

The message was clear; if you are no longer fit enough to play at the highest level, we don’t need you.

This message has been made concrete recently with this coming Summer’s planned release of the legendary John Terry from Chelsea, the London team that he has been affiliated with, and in some ways defined, since he became a promising youth academy prospect at the age of 14. Now 36, Terry has received a cold message from MLS teams; no one is interested.

The moments that define a league growing in stature and credibility

Nowhere is this more evident than in Atlanta. Launching a new, young expansion team, Atlanta’s ownership group pulled off the coup of the year when they hired Gerardo “Tata” Martino as their first year coach.

This is a man who has coached arguably the world’s best player, Lionel Messi, and he has coached him both at Barcelona and the Argentina national team. Martino, in accepting the challenge of building an expansion team, named rising star, 23 year-old Paraguayan Miguel Almiron as his first big signing.

The world might not have known Almiron’s name, but Martino was shrewdly doing what good coaches do; locking in the rising star before he hits his peak. What’s more, Martino has Atlanta punching above their weight, carving out a position in mid-table of the Eastern Conference, and making established teams nervous as they prepare to play the upstarts.

Last year’s mid-season Seattle Sounders’ signing of Nicolas Lodeiro was eye-opening, and not just for the fact that he was 26. Lodeiro, a World Cup veteran with the Uruguayan National team, oversaw a miraculous mid-season turn-around by the Sounders that culminated in the team’s first MLS Championship. His immediate impact came from his refusal to stop moving, running, challenging every ball. He seemed to be everywhere on the field. The question was obvious; could a 30-something star have made the same impact in this league today?

Traditionalists can still point to NYCFC’s Andrea Pirlo, who turns 38 later this month, or Didier Drogba, who at 38 was still good enough to contribute to Montreal Impact last year, as the exceptions.

They are the exceptions that prove the rule, though. You have to prove you can still dominate a game. If you can’t, see you later.

It has not gone unnoticed that Orlando City FC has climbed to the top of the Eastern Conference this season, mostly without the injured Kaka on the field.

A different league than it was even a few years ago

Highlighted by Martino’s Atlanta United FC, teams are confident, tactically sophisticated, and most intriguingly, defined by unique playing styles.

The big name signings will still happen, and will still cause a stir when they warrant it – Bastian Schweinsteiger, at 32, should still have a couple good years to offer his new team, Chicago Fire – but if you are, let’s say a 35 year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic, newly injured and undergoing surgery that will keep you out of the game for several months, be forewarned, your name and reputation alone are no longer going to cut it.

Rising Stars like Almiron and Lodeiro, along with a growing cache of up and coming stars, will be sure to see to that.

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